HealthSheets™


Understanding Heroin Addiction

The personal cost of heroin addiction (heroin use disorder) can be devastating. You may lose your job and your savings. You may even lose your friends and family. In time, you may lose your health or even your life. But heroin addiction can be treated. If you or a loved one has a drug problem, there is help. The first step is to admit the problem. Then talk with someone you trust.

What is heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug made from morphine. This comes from a flower (the opium poppy). Heroin is often sold as a white or brown powder or as a black, tarry substance. Users may inject, smoke, sniff, or even eat the drug. This gives a strong feeling of pleasure that may last for a few hours. Heroin is highly addictive. This means your body and mind develop a strong need for it. It's hard to stop using it. So you spend more and more time looking for and using the drug. In fact, using heroin can become the main purpose of your life. And you may not be able to stop using it on your own.

What are the risks of heroin use?

Heroin is highly addictive. Other risks of using this drug include:

  • Overdose and death. The heroin you use may be stronger than you think. It also may be mixed with stronger opioids such as fentanyl. This often leads to an overdose, which can be fatal.

  • Exposure to HIV and hepatitis. You can get these diseases from using shared needles to inject the drug. And you may pass them on to your sex partners and children.

  • Pre-term or stillbirths. Babies born to women using heroin may be born early. They also may die before or during birth. Or they may be born addicted to heroin.

  • Skin and vein problems. Scarred or collapsed veins, or infections of the veins or skin

  • Lung disease. This can include pneumonia or tuberculosis.

  • Other serious problems. These include brain or heart damage. And clogged blood vessels.

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